2002 volume 20(1) pages 27 – 52

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Nash C, 2002, "Genealogical identities" Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 20(1) 27 – 52

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Genealogical identities

Catherine Nash

Received 2 September 2000; in revised form 4 May 2001

Abstract. Ideas of belonging, cultural identity, and social relations based on ancestral connection, blood, and primordial kinship, have a contradictory presence in cultural theory and public culture. The search for alternatives to fixed, essentialist, and exclusive ways of imagining culture and belonging has been central to recent cultural theory and cultural geography. This has involved much attention to cultural routes, mobility, and hybridity and a critique of cultural roots, fixity, and purity in response to increasing transnational flows, the experience of displaced people, racism, and ethnic fundamentalism. Yet discourses of indigeneity and new migration patterns, as well as cultural globalisation more widely, have also prompted the growth in genealogy amongst 'settler' groups in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States who search for European, and often specifically Irish, roots. In this paper I explore the relationships between ideas of nation, ancestry, and diaspora. I focus on what happens when questions of nationality, ethnicity, and identity meet in the practice of ancestral research in Ireland, and begin to track the spatially differentiated cultural politics of genealogy. As the language of genealogy travels with Irish roots tourists and through electronic networks, the implications of genealogical practices and identifications can mutate so that what may be a politically regressive turn to ethnic purity and racial discourse in one context can, in another, productively unsettle older exclusive versions of belonging. For both individual and collective identities, genealogical projects can have unsettling results.

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